Recognizing Your Personal Weaknesses

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If you’ve ever been in an addiction recovery program, you know that having an organized relapse prevention plan is part of staying clean–and part of an effective relapse prevention plan is knowing your personal “triggers” or weak points. One recovering alcoholic may be easily roped into “drinking away” her troubles; another may habitually reach for the bottle when bored; still another may be used to celebrating special occasions with a glass of wine. And these categories have subcategories: one person’s greatest stressor is socializing at networking events; another may be invigorated by networking but turn into a bundle of nerves over bad news on CNN.

Even if you’ve never been tempted by any chemical stronger than coffee, everyone has areas of special vulnerability to sin that starts with “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” While sometimes we get caught off guard and can only cry out to God for His “way of escape,” it’s just plain foolish to deliberately walk into a situation we know brings out the worst in us.

If you aren’t sure of your weakest areas, recall the last several times you acted in ways that left you convicted of sin, and ask God to help you see what these situations had in common. (You may want to get help from a trusted friend or spiritual mentor.) Some “sin triggers” that are common problems for believers:

  • False guilt. Not every unsavory impulse or failure to give what’s expected is a sin. One of the devil’s favorite methods of tempting believers is to first soften them up by convincing them they’ve already done wrong: he knows about human tendencies to reason “I’ve already blown it so I might as well go in deeper.”
  • Overload. Another of the devil’s favorite tactics is summed up in the saying, “If Satan can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.” When we feel we have to fill every need that comes our way, to the point we neglect prayer and rest time, we become ineffective at best. And, frequently, highly susceptible to sins of resentment and pride: “I work so hard and not even God gives me the acknowledgment and reward I deserve. Everybody’s just a selfish jerk!”
  • Fatigue or illness. Being worn down and under the weather brings out the worst in people. If you find yourself frequently getting irritable or making promises you can’t keep, often the most spiritual thing you can do is take a few weeks’ vacation without email. Or at least start saying “Sorry, I can’t help with that” more often, and going to bed earlier and eating more vegetables and protein.
  • Ingrained habits. Returning to the addiction example, there are people who really can’t take a sip of beer or log into a Facebook account without careening into a binge of the worst order; that first move may be a conscious decision, but their brains are literally programmed to take it and run with it, and the only way they can control themselves is to abstain from the activity altogether. Even people without diagnosable addictions have brain neurochannels programmed to respond in specific ways to specific situations: i. e., habits. There are two rules of breaking bad habits: find healthy habits to replace them, and think long and hard before going “just a little” way down the trail that consistently takes you into wrong behavior.

The good news is, God can use even our weaknesses for His purposes–which is one reason He doesn’t always eliminate our weaknesses even when we’re eager to be rid of them. Follow the example of St. Paul: give your weaknesses to God for His use, even as you trust Him to use your strengths.

Everything He creates–even the temptation-vulnerable areas of our personalities–He creates for a good reason.

COMING SOON! My new e-book, 100 Ways to Live as an Optimist in a Pessimistic World, will be released this spring. Join the 100 Ways email list for up-to-date news, special offers, and teaser optimism tips!



The Slippery Slope of Temptation

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Among the “two kinds of people” sets in this world is the early-risers-vs.-night-owls set. The subcategory of that set responsible for the most feuds is:

  1. People who love loud, raucous music and parties that last well into the night.
  2. People who are ready to settle into bed by 10 p.m. every night, even Fridays and Saturdays.

It’s too bad no city zoning restriction keeps the night partiers and the night sleepers in different neighborhoods. If you’re an early-to-bed type living in a thin-walled apartment, it can be seriously hard to love your neighbors when you’re desperate for rest and no set of earplugs seems capable of shutting out the thump, thump, thump of full-volume rock music. Bearing with it for an hour is one thing, but from 9:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.?!?

If thinking hateful thoughts about others makes one a murderer (cf. 1 John 3:15), I for one have earned at least forty life sentences on sleep-deprived nights.

Step By Step Into Temptation

You may never have been tempted to hate (let alone literally shoot) a neighbor for keeping you awake, but no doubt you have your own situations where sin looks irresistible. As the Bible notes in James 1:14-15 (italics added): “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

Let’s look at these stages step by step.

  1. Evil desire. The fleshly desire that’s so eager to chase sin’s bait can be anything from sexual gratification to power over others to pride in our own “goodness.” The common factor is that we want to satisfy our desires more than we want to please God.
  2. Conception. Even when we want to choose God’s will over our desires, resisting in His strength isn’t always a quick-relief pill. If we pray we’ll be able to resist drugs or pornography or workaholism or self-pity or bitterness, yet the source of our annoyance persists or our cravings just seem to shout all the louder, do we continue in prayer for divine strength? Or do we turn to the easy route: telling ourselves that what we want isn’t really bad and won’t really hurt anything? Or that God doesn’t care about us anyway ?
  3. Sin. Whether the beginning of actual sin is marked by active rationalization or open defiance; whether it involves real-world action or stops at ugly thoughts–it’s the point where we say, in effect, “God, I don’t care what You want. If You won’t do things my way, I won’t do things Your way either!”
  4. Death. As with Adam who lived over 800 years after eating the “you shall surely die” fruit, sin rarely brings literal and immediate death–and that makes it all the more insidious. When nothing obviously serious happens the first time we give in to a sinful desire, we do it “just once more” until it grows into a way of life. Things may get incrementally worse until they explode into disaster. Or, more subtly but just as dangerously, we may commit spiritual suicide through a progressively hardening heart.

Getting Off That Slippery Slope

Thankfully, by God’s grace we can get out of sin and back to Him at any stage in the process:

“If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal” (2 Chronicles 7:14, King James Version).

It may be anything but easy, but it’s always worth the effort.

Even the effort of praying through your exhaustion all night for God’s blessing on your noisy neighbors.

COMING SOON! My e-book, 100 Ways to Live as an Optimist in a Pessimistic World, comes out this spring. Sign up for updates and get in on the best offers!


  • A blog for naturally melancholy Christians tired of being told to "snap out of it"; for Christians who struggle with mental-health issues and long for assurance God delights in them nonetheless; and for naturally optimistic Christians who want to understand their "gloomy" loved ones.

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    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and anyone who just wants to better understand the world of mental/emotional struggles. Or who just wants to pick up some good stress-management tips! Visit my main website at

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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See for copyright details.
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